Representatives of Allentown will take a step toward securing funding for the planned development of the Sgt. George Ashby Memorial Park Project when they submit an application for a Monmouth County municipal open space grant in September.
The Allentown Borough Council held a public hearing on Aug. 20 to give residents the opportunity to comment on a plan to seek a portion of the $2 million in funding that is available from the county.
Allison Arnone, who chairs the Sgt. George Ashby Memorial Park Committee, told borough officials and residents that the committee members and a consultant are working to complete a detailed application that requests $125,000 from the county. Allentown would match any county funds received through its open space tax, she said.
Arnone described how African-Americans from Allentown have served in the nation’s military forces and said, “It is time for us to create a park and share that history. This park will teach us about our history.
“We have worked really hard on this grant (application). The (planned) park is beautiful, but it is also going to be educational. We are going to bring our history that may have faded into the background to the forefront,” Arnone said.
Funding is being sought for Phase I of the park’s development. Phase I would include the removal of overgrown grass, the removal of trees, some earth work, the planting of trees around a planned pathway, cleaning up the areas near the proposed entrances and what Arnone called “creating the bones of the park.”
Arnone said the committee is working to acquire an easement from the Allentown United Methodist Church, Church Street, which would permit access to Ashby Park from that point, in addition to the planned access from Broad and Hamilton streets.
Borough Council members subsequently passed a resolution authorizing the submission of the grant application to the county.
The Monmouth County Park System, with the support of the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders, is seeking applications from all 53 municipalities in the county, which may request a share of $2 million from the Monmouth County Municipal Open Space Grant Program to create, expand and improve local open space and parks, according to a press release from the county.
“The board will continue to preserve and protect open space and expand our world class park system and these grants help fund the municipal endeavors,” Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, the liaison to the Monmouth County Park System, said in the press release.
“Over the years, this open space grant program has bolstered numerous recreation sites throughout the county. I sincerely admire and respect the municipalities’ efforts and undertakings and thank all those involved who keep Monmouth County the place you want to be,” Burry said.
The deadline for municipal officials to submit a grant application is Sept. 19. Grant awards will be announced in December, according to the press release.
The grants, which are part of a competitive matching funds program for municipalities, are administered by the Monmouth County Park System and funded through the Monmouth County Open Space Trust Fund.
In November 2002, Monmouth County voters approved an expansion of the existing county open space trust fund to include money for cooperative projects with municipalities in the county. The freeholders formally established the program in 2003 and began allocating $2 million annually to municipalities, according to the press release.
The members of the Ashby Park committee are working to seek funding for the development of the park on a 3-acre parcel behind the United Methodist Church. Arnone has said the cost to develop the park could approach $1.2 million.
Council President Thomas Fritts has said it could take a decade to bring the project to fruition.
In 2016, municipal officials purchased the Wilbert property which is bounded by residential properties on Hamilton, Broad and North Main streets.
In 2017, council members named the parcel the Sgt. George Ashby Memorial Park.
In May, council members approved a final concept design for Ashby Park. The proposal – which has been described as a dual lawn design – was developed by E&LP Associates. The firm has been authorized to complete the application for the county grant.
According to the website findagrave.com, George Ashby died at his home in Allentown on April 26, 1946, at age 102. At the time of his death, Ashby was the last remaining New Jersey Civil War veteran.
He is buried in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) cemetery on Hamilton Street, which is adjacent to the park that now bears his name.
Municipal officials have said that in addition to Ashby, there are other African-American soldiers from Allentown who served in the Civil War who are buried in the AME cemetery.